A day after Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all employees working in educational roles must be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment, Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich said he plans to follow the state’s mandate.
“I plan on following (Inslee’s) mandate,” Rolovich told reporters after practice Thursday in Pullman. “For sure.”
Inslee’s mandate requires public, private and charter school employees in Washington to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 18, with the only exemptions being for medical or religious reasons. The mandate applies to Rolovich, who last month said he would not get vaccinated, citing reasons that “will remain private.”
Later in the post-practice media session at Gesa Field, the second-year coach kept mum when asked whether he was waiting for the FDA to approve a vaccine before getting the shot.
“I’m just gonna follow the mandate,” Rolovich said.
He added of his assistant coaches, a few of whom wear masks at practices: “I believe they all plan on following the mandate. It’s what the deal is.”
When asked by email for a clarification and whether Rolovich plans to get vaccinated, a WSU spokesman replied to The Times, “I will just reiterate what coach said today that he will follow the Governor’s mandate.”
Face coverings have not been required at practices for vaccinated coaches throughout camp.
Rolovich said he and school administrators did not discuss Inslee’s mandate Wednesday, but WSU’s head coaches gathered for a meeting, during which “(the mandate) got addressed.”
Inslee announced Aug. 9 that most state employees and health-care workers would be required to receive a vaccine, but that mandate didn’t cover K-12 or higher-education institutions. WSU also has mandated that students and faculty members get vaccinated, with faculty being exempt for personal reasons along with religious and medical.
The mandates come as the state grapples with a surge of COVID-19 cases that matches the state’s previous high daily totals set in January. Inslee said the vast majority of cases and hospitalizations are among unvaccinated individuals.
“More than 95% of the COVID hospitalizations we see today are among the unvaccinated,” Inslee said at a news conference Wednesday. “And it is heart-rending for us to see losing our neighbors, our co-workers, our students to a preventable disease.”
Inslee also responded to Rolovich’s vaccination status last week, telling The Associated Press: “Anybody in a leadership position in the state of Washington, I believe, has an obligation to lead and use their leadership position to save lives. Governors, senators, football coaches — help lead. Lead the effort to defeat COVID.”
According to a report from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, 80% of WSU’s football players have been vaccinated — the lowest vaccination rate among the 10 Pac-12 programs that reported results. Rolovich is the only unvaccinated head football coach. It’s unclear how many Cougar coaches have received the vaccine, as multiple assistants wear masks daily at practices.
The Pac-12 has introduced a new COVID-19 forfeiture policy this season, stating that teams unable to play a conference game because of an outbreak must forfeit rather than have the matchup declared a no-contest. Last season, the Cougars missed three games due to COVID-19 issues — two of which were opponent-related.
WSU athletic director Pat Chun, who is vaccinated, said last week that he supports Rolovich and expected public backlash to the coach’s decision.
“Nick and I talked it through, and we both knew there would be (an uproar),” Chun told The Times. “Everyone understands this a very political issue with the vaccine. To Nick’s credit, he wanted to be transparent about why he wasn’t going to be there. I care about Nick, he’s a good person — and I understood the second he made that statement, the impact that would have on him personally and professionally. That was a heavy toll that was going to be paid with the announcement.”
Rolovich said he has been getting daily COVID-19 tests and following protocols while leading the team during fall camp. The Cougars begin their regular season Sept. 4 against Utah State.
The Spokesman-Review’s Colton Clark contributed to this report.